First Continental Congress
|Established||September 5, 1774|
|Disbanded||October 26, 1774|
|Preceded by||Stamp Act Congress|
|Succeeded by||Second Continental Congress|
|Seats||56 from 12 of the 13 colonies|
|Carpenters' Hall, Philadelphia|
The First Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from 12 of the 13 British colonies that became the United States. It met from September 5 to October 26, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after the British Navy instituted a blockade of Boston Harbor and Parliament passed the punitive Intolerable Acts in response to the December 1773 Boston Tea Party. During the opening weeks of the Congress, the delegates conducted a spirited discussion about how the colonies could collectively respond to the British government's coercive actions, and they worked to make common cause. A plan was proposed to create a Union of Great Britain and the Colonies, but the delegates rejected it. They ultimately agreed to impose an economic boycott on British trade, and they drew up a Petition to the King pleading for redress of their grievances and repeal of the Intolerable Acts. That appeal had no effect, so the colonies convened the Second Continental Congress the following May, shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, to organize the defense of the colonies at the outset of the Revolutionary War. The delegates also urged each colony to set up and train its own militia.
The Congress met from September 5 to October 26, 1774, in Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia; delegates from 12 British colonies participated. They were elected by the people of the various colonies, the colonial legislature, or by the Committee of Correspondence of a colony.Loyalist sentiments outweighed Patriot views in Georgia, and that colony did not join the cause until the following year.
Peyton Randolph was elected as president of the Congress on the opening day, and he served through October 22 when ill health forced him to retire, and Henry Middleton was elected in his place for the balance of the session. Charles Thomson, leader of the Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence, was selected as the congressional secretary. The rules adopted by the delegates were designed to guard the equality of participants and to promote free-flowing debate.
As the deliberations progressed, it became clear that those in attendance were not of one mind concerning why they were there. Conservatives such as Joseph Galloway, John Dickinson, John Jay, and Edward Rutledge believed their task to be forging policies to pressure Parliament to rescind its unreasonable acts. Their ultimate goal was to develop a reasonable solution to the difficulties and bring about reconciliation between the Colonies and Great Britain. Others such as Patrick Henry, Roger Sherman, Samuel Adams, and John Adams believed their task to be developing a decisive statement of the rights and liberties of the Colonies. Their ultimate goal was to end what they felt to be the abuses of parliamentary authority and to retain their rights, which had been guaranteed under Colonial charters and the English constitution.
Roger Sherman denied the legislative authority of Parliament, and Patrick Henry believed that the Congress needed to develop a completely new system of government, independent from Great Britain, for the existing Colonial governments were already dissolved. In contrast to these ideas, Joseph Galloway put forward a "Plan of Union" which suggested that an American legislative body should be formed with some authority, whose consent would be required for imperial measures.
In the end, the voices of compromise carried the day. Rather than calling for independence, the First Continental Congress passed and signed the Continental Association in its Declaration and Resolves, which called for a boycott of British goods to take effect in December 1774. It requested that local Committees of Safety enforce the boycott and regulate local prices for goods. These resolutions adopted by the Congress did not endorse any legal power of Parliament to regulate trade, but consented, nonetheless, to the operation of acts for that purpose. Furthermore, they did not repudiate control by the royal prerogative, which was explicitly acknowledged in the Petition to the King a few days later.
The primary accomplishment of the First Continental Congress was a compact among the colonies to boycott British goods beginning on December 1, 1774 unless parliament should rescind the Intolerable Acts. Additionally, Great Britain's colonies in the West Indies were threatened with a boycott unless they agreed to non-importation of British goods. Imports from Britain dropped by 97 percent in 1775, compared with the previous year. Committees of observation and inspection were to be formed in each Colony to ensure compliance with the boycott. It was further agreed that if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed, the colonies would also cease exports to Britain after September 10, 1775.
The Houses of Assembly of each participating colony approved the proceedings of the Congress, with the exception of New York. The boycott was successfully implemented, but its potential for altering British colonial policy was cut off by the outbreak of hostilities in April 1775.
Congress also voted to meet again the following year if their grievances were not addressed satisfactorily. Anticipating that there would be cause to convene a second congress, delegates resolved to send letters of invitation to those colonies that had not joined them in Philadelphia, including: Quebec, Saint John's Island, Nova Scotia, Georgia, East Florida, and West Florida. Of these, only Georgia would ultimately send delegates to the next Congress.
|New Hampshire||Nathaniel Folsom; John Sullivan|
|Massachusetts Bay||John Adams;[A]Samuel Adams; Thomas Cushing; Robert Treat Paine|
|Rhode Island||Stephen Hopkins; Samuel Ward|
|Connecticut||Silas Deane; Eliphalet Dyer; Roger Sherman|
|New York||John Alsop;[B]Simon Boerum; James Duane;[B]William Floyd;[C]John Haring;[D]John Jay;[B][E]Philip Livingston;[B]Isaac Low;[B][F]Henry Wisner[D]|
|New Jersey||Stephen Crane; John De Hart; James Kinsey; William Livingston; Richard Smith|
|Pennsylvania||Edward Biddle; John Dickinson; Joseph Galloway;[F]Charles Humphreys; Thomas Mifflin; John Morton; Samuel Rhoads; George Ross|
|Delaware||Thomas McKean; George Read; Caesar Rodney|
|Maryland||Samuel Chase; Robert Goldsborough; Thomas Johnson; William Paca; Matthew Tilghman|
|Virginia||Richard Bland; Benjamin Harrison; Patrick Henry; Richard Henry Lee; Edmund Pendleton; Peyton Randolph;[G]George Washington[A]|
|North Carolina||Richard Caswell; Joseph Hewes; William Hooper|
|South Carolina||Christopher Gadsden; Thomas Lynch Jr.; Henry Middleton;[G]Edward Rutledge; John Rutledge[E]|